If you’re not familiar with Dexter cattle, it’s worth a Google. They’re a small breed of cattle that have not had decades of genetic selection for gain on grain diets. They certainly do not fit the commercial market system but are doing well here. They are small cattle that do well on grass and are a decent fit for our temperatures that range from the low +30’s in the summer to the -20’s in the winter.
One of qualities that makes them attractive from a customer point of view is that, because of their small size, the cuts of meat are also smaller. A mixed side of beef that’s got all of the steaks and roasts is a weight that may be 50% to 75% of what large breed commercial cattle would provide. All of the cuts that can be had – in portion sizes that are not obscenely large. If you really want a steak that hangs over the edges of a large plate, you may be better satisfied elsewhere.
The cattle are offered pasture or hay for their entire lives. They are also offered salt blocks with added trace minerals as well as access to a mineral supplement. Dried kelp and diatomateous earth are also offered periodically. They are not offered or given grain, implants or ionophores. Antibiotics are used only when necessary (one animal out of 52 in 2014 due to an infected leg injury) none since. These are not corn fed feedlot creatures. The cattle sent for processing and sold to customers are typically not more than 28 months old (ideally 19-22). They are entirely finished on grass.
For the 2017 calf crop, a Lowline angus bull was brought in. The goal in theory is to match the sizes of the bull and cow to keep a smaller frame cow with more beefy characteristics. Early maturing, grass loving, hardy, relaxed cattle is the goal – all in a package that is a few hundred pounds less than the commercial feedlot ideal.
While bottle feeding calves is a good experience for the kids, it’s not something to strive for. Ideally mom cows don’t neglect their calves – it should be a relatively hands off situation for us. In the fall of 2016, a number of dexter cows were culled from the herd. The main criteria for culling were mothering ability and temperament with a definite consideration to conformation.